New side on “West Side Story”

A new look of the school musical from a choreographer's perspective

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Emmalynn Berry

Actor Joel Bradley is practicing choreography behind Ciera Carlson. Carlson is helping the cast keep on time to the music by snapping.

Emmalynn Berry, Staff Writer

Senior Ciera Carlson isn’t only a part of the cast for the spring musical, “West Side Story”, but she is also the choreographer for the production. 

The musical “West Side Story” is a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, dealing with two gangs on the upper west side of New York.

The original musical involved 29 dance numbers. Carlson has choreographed five dances for the school, which are around five to six minutes long. “I take inspiration from the original choreography, especially since [“West Side Story”] was an [iconic] musical, but then I add my own twist to it,” Carlson said.

Emmalynn Berry
The cast of “West Side Story” learning new choreography for one of their dances, “Cool”. “Cool” is one of the biggest dances in the show. Choreographer, Ciera Carlson is teaching them exactly where to put their arms during the middle of the dance.

Carlson was asked by her directors, Leah Purdy and Brittany McDaniel, if she wanted to choreograph “Newsies” for the spring musical last year. Purdy and McDaniel asked Carlson again for this year’s “West Side Story”. “When we were deciding what musical to pick this year we thought, we have Ciera for one more year and she did such a fantastic job for choreographing “Newsies”, that we knew we wanted a dance heavy musical so that she could have that opportunity and we could utilize her again before she graduates,” McDaniel said.

As everyone was asleep over their Christmas break, Carlson was practicing, writing, and preparing all of the dance numbers to be taught when musical practice started. “Over Christmas break I put in hours, probably over 25, working on [choreography]. Just getting everything ready,” Carlson said. She is now going over all of the dances with around 60 people at practice three times a week to get them just right.

Emmalynn Berry
Cast members. senior Makenna Koen and junior Maya Lashley going through their part for the dance while Ciera Carlson is teaching the other cast members their part.

Being the choreographer is a big commitment. “So in “West Side Story”, its very dance heavy and she obviously has a lot of dance experience. So every time you see the kids dance on stage, Ciera wrote that and taught that. So she’s done a ton,” Purdy said, “She choreographed 5 in total, but you have to realize that some of those are only dancing and no singing so it’s extremely dance intensive.”

She has also done more than just the school musicals. Carlson has choreographed a few musicals for the Fox Theater. “I’ve done Newsies. I choreographed “Wizard of Oz”, “Willy Wonka”, “Seussical”, and then I’m also doing Matilda” this year,” Carlson said. 

A successful musical is built on a large foundation of dancing, acting, the cast, the stage managers, the choreography, and the directors. Without all of the hard work these people put into the musical, the show would not go on.